On female illiteracy :: 2008.04.23 03:51

The past hiatus in my postings is ...

  • partly due to my good-for-nothing Internet connection with the speed of 167 kbps midday, and about 530 kbps past midnight (no wonder it always says I need 58+ days to download a movie), which definately is not sexy, and naturally leads to loss of physical and psychological momentum
  • largely due to work & play, and the state of being 'busy'

I'm revising a year's worth of materials, from politics of dev, social policy analysis, and culture & langage in Africa...I'm just amazed at how much I was taught, how much I had absorbed, (and how much I still don't know), how much my thoughts have evolved...

To a larger extent, I cannot agree more to 'knowledge and literacy = power'. It's really an exciting experience for me- I feel more alive everytime I stumble upon something new, and I feel more empowered when I actually delve into interesting topics (an indication of the level of hyperactiveness of the geek inside me). I can't possibly imagine a life without education.
The sad thing is, this is no imagination, this is a reality for many.

This problem of female illiteracy has so many attendant issues...many relating to the 8 MDGs....
Data show that there's a high correlation between female illiteracy and infant mortality. In countries with the highest rates of female illiteracy, life expectancy at birth is 41, whereas in countries with greater nubmer of literate women, life expectancy at birth is 72. Mothers play a crucial role in supporting children's education, but nonliterate mothers tend not to be much assistance to the child in education process. This is also related to population control. Worldwide, the average woman with no education gives birth to about 8 children. Women have as much economic potentials and capabilities as men, and if more are literate, there'll be more assets- esp, human capital. This is just a few implications of female illiteracy that I can think of at the moment

*See the IRIN article on Egypt below.

If I feel helpless and powerless just by reading what's on paper... imagine what it'd be like OFF-paper- in reality.


EGYPT: Illiteracy still rife among rural women
IRIN, humanitarian news and analysis service,
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=26179)


CAIRO, 8 March 2006 (IRIN) -
Nesma and a group of fellow women farm workers sit out in the midday sun after a morning of harvesting spinach leaves from plush green fields in Fayyoum governorate in Lower Egypt, 80kms south of Cairo.


Living in one-room mud houses with their husbands and children, they manage to eke out a living on between $0.80 and $1.60 a day each.

None of the women in the group knows how to read, nor do they express much desire to learn. For them, there is no choice but to passively accept their circumstances and little point in trying to change their lives.

"Life goes on, and this is my lot," said Nesma, in her mid 40s. "Even if I were to learn how to read, would it make a difference? And, even so, do you think my husband would let me get a job in town, away from him?"

She, like many rural women, takes chronic poverty and gender-related disadvantages for granted. "Reading doesn’t make a woman socially acceptable or useful," Nesma said. "Here, in the villages, we women grow up to marry and have children. That is our role in life. Anything else is a luxury."

According to the 2005 Human Development Report (HDR) for Egypt, issued jointly by the UNDP and the Ministry of Planning and Development, 35 percent of the population cannot read or write, putting Egypt among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of illiteracy. The figure is worse for Egypt’s female population, with 45 percent of girls and women over the age of 15 years-old being illiterate.

Studies repeatedly note the considerable gender gap, which is in turn exacerbated by regional and urban-rural gaps. Rural girls and women are, without exception, the worst hit.

While the report indicates marginal improvements over the past decade, it also stresses: "There remains a gender gap in favour of males." Cultural constraints, added to additional costs of education and the fact that a child attending school will be unable to assist in household responsibilities, contribute to this gap.

Cultural constraints

For rural women, the problem is doubly difficult to get around. According to the HDR, a whopping 85 percent of female rural household heads are illiterate.

A general lack of resources, added to a culture in which rural women's roles are limited to the domestic sphere and farm work, seriously hampers their access to education. While male employment has decreased over recent years, opening up more opportunities for women in the national labour force, rural women still rarely pursue careers as such.

In the rural areas, early marriages also contribute to female illiteracy. "Very often, a family will take their daughter out of school aged 13 or 14," said Nihad Abul-Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights. "And by the time she's grown up, she'll have forgotten how to read and write properly."

For other women, trouble starts at birth. Parents, particularly in impoverished rural areas, are often loath to register their daughters with the authorities, simply because the process is often long and difficult. Many parents feel that girls – who aren’t seen as potential breadwinners – are simply not worth the trouble. "As a result, many girls grow up without being issued birth certificates or identity cards," Abul-Qumsan said.

Technically, these girls and women do not exist. They are therefore not only unable to attend school, but it also becomes impossible for them to access public health services and other government subsidies or apply for regular work.

"These women can neither read nor work nor get treatment when they're ill," Abul-Qumsan said. "They're poor and marginalised, and their status as illiterates without legal documentation more often than not means they will stay that way."

Illiteracy and poverty

In Egypt, illiteracy not only constitutes a cause for poverty, it also acts as a disincentive for affected persons to adequately address their situation. An illiterate person is far less likely to be able to improve his or her lot, say experts, than someone who can read and write.

"If someone can't read or write," said Abul-Qumsan, "chances are he or she will not be able to address his or her problems efficiently or improve his or her financial circumstances."

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